I just returned from an 8 day trip to Burma, or officially “Myanmar” since the military government changed the name in 1989. Before the trip, in my mind Burma was a sad and poverty-stricken third world outpost of cruel leadership among the likes of North Korea. (I should note right now that spending 8 days in a country doesn’t come close to making you an expert on the culture, and that my grasp of Burma is pretty limited.)
Post-trip, I still think the above is true, but that isn’t how I’d describe the country to others. You can’t help but be impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the people there, the remnants of historical wealth evident in the thousands of beautiful pagodas, and the presence of modern conveniences, however inaccessible they are to the majority of Burma’s poor population (the 13th poorest in the world).
In many ways Burma is a truly tragic country. The rule of the junta has been one of political oppression, economic mismanagement, and a general decline in wealth and world standing. What was once a prosperous and vast kingdom is now a backwards, poor, and stifled outcast nation ruled with brutal and uncaring military force. Diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions haven’t accomplished much, and in fact are partly responsible for the continued poverty there, which is partly responsible for the ignorance and powerlessness that are partly responsible for why the future of Burma seems so grim, which is partly responsible for why the military government is still in power.
That’s a lot of “partly responsibles”, but if you’re looking for simple answers then don’t try to wrap your head around what kind of solutions will turn the situation in Burma around. Sure, getting rid of the military junta would be a great first step, but even then you’ve got to overcome all the damage and developmental issues that are the result of decades of incompetent rule. And make no mistake, the junta has a firm grip on power that is partly thanks to the complicity of the Chinese, who are unwilling to get involved with the internal affairs of another state (read: give up their economic interests in Burma).
If the U.S. is so concerned about human rights, we should have invaded Burma rather than Iraq. Or at least offered a helping hand to the monks who led country-wide protests in 2007 before being brutally murdered and jailed as the international community sat idly by. This was chronicled in Burma VJ, a depressing documentary created from smuggled footage regarding the Saffron revolution.
There are supposed to be “democratic” elections this year. The last time elections were held, the junta was handily defeated but refused to give up power. Its hard to imagine this time being any different.
I have no idea what will happen in the future. Perhaps more “enlightened” military rulers will replace the current generation of generals, though organizations like that are specifically designed to promote those with worldviews in harmony with the current leadership. Perhaps the junta will be pressured into actually adhering to election results. Sadly, I’m afraid it will just be more of the same.